Skycache Hopes to Cash In on Bandwidth Dilemma

Skycache Hopes to Cash In on Bandwidth Dilemma

By Shannon Henry
Staff Writer

Doug Humphrey's scheme to solve the Internet bandwidth problem might be the most ambitious project yet for the founder of Internet access provider Digex Inc. in Beltsville, Md.

Humphrey left Digex soon after it was sold in June to telco Intermedia Communications Inc. in Tampa, Fla. With the $13 million he got from the sale, not to mention his Internet expertise and penchant for start-ups, Humphrey was expected to continue his entrepreneurial success.

His first launch since leaving Digex targets the problem of Internet overload. More people are using the Internet more often. And what's being sent is also getting bigger: The size of Web content measured in megabits of storage is expected to increase threefold in 1998, according to Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. Routers are, quite simply, clogged like drains - slow, unreliable and getting worse.

So Humphrey came up with the idea for Skycache - a seven-employee company based in Laurel, Md., and a tenant of an Internet incubator run by Humphrey and his wife, Lisa Losito.

Skycache takes what Humphrey calls two "OK" technologies - caching and satellite - and uses them together to create what he said could be a revolutionary technology. Beta tests are planned in the first quarter of 1998 and Humphrey expects to have at least one government beta customer.

"It's the next evolution of the Internet," claims Humphrey.

Both caching and using satellite to transmit voice and data over the Internet are not new. But Skycache claims to be the first to bring the two together to attack the bandwidth problem. Other companies such as Torrent Networking Technologies Corp. in Landover, Md.; Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose, Calif., and Ascend Communications Corp., Alameda, Calif., are trying to solve the dilemma by creating routers that prioritize Internet traffic.

Caching is a technology where World Wide Web sites can be stored in a central location and then sent out on demand without using the Internet.

Here's how Skycache's technology works: business customers (Humphrey said he will not target individuals) including Internet service providers, large businesses and governments sign on for the Skycache service. Any time one of their customers or employees clicks on a Web site, that site goes to a caching center and is stored until the site is updated. After that, 24 hours a day, when any other customer or employee of any Skycache user clicks on the same site, he receives it via satellite from the cache. The site only travels over Internet bandwidth once. Even if a million customers of a Skycache user, say a large Internet service provider, click on the Princess Diana site in a day, only the first person to click uses Internet bandwidth.

"It's a data replicator in the sky," said Humphrey.

For this service to be cost-efficient, the more customers Skycache can attract the better. Humphrey said renting the satellite use will cost Skycache only $50,000 a month.

Timing is crucial in this launch. Ulric Weil, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey and Co. Inc. in Arlington, Va., said the bandwidth problem will be solved in the next two years. "Skycache's idea has merit," he said. "The question is how long it will take. If it takes [Skycache] the next two years to do this, it won't work."

Weil said he'd bet on Humphrey understanding the technology, but was skeptical about the business side of the enterprise. "Doug Humphrey knows what the tech challenges are. But who is the business man there?" Weil asked.

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